Spanking can alter kids' brain development the way more severe abuse does, new study finds

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

"While we might not conceptualize corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child's brain responds, it's not all that different than abuse," said McLaughlin. "It's more a difference of degree than of type."

It seems to make sense when you consider that hitting a child on the bottom isn't fundamentally different from hitting them anywhere else on their body. Open or closed hand, a strike is a strike, and a strike is, by definition, violence.

In full disclosure, I wasn't spanked as a child. My husband and I have also never spanked our own kids, who are now a tween, a teen, and an adult. (And quite delightful, well-behaved human beings, I might add.) The majority of our close family friends have not spanked their kids, and we've also watched those kids grow into delightful, well-behaved human beings.

When you don't grow up with spanking, the idea honestly seems very strange. I'd no sooner hit my children on the bottom as hit them anywhere else, and I've never understood why people think that a slap on the buttocks—an area that feels quite private to me—is somehow less problematic than a slap across the face. I understand that people might see spanking differently if they're raised with it, but when it isn't something you grow up with, it's just weird.

It's also just not necessary. I've seen people argue that there are certain situations where spanking is either necessary or the most effective means of addressing a behavior, usually in situations of safety. I know many parents, for instance, think a quick smack on the bottom is an appropriate response to a small child running into the road. Little kids don't understand reason, the argument goes. However, there are other ways to instill a desirable fear into a child who doesn't understand a mortal danger.

When my wee ones headed toward the road, I grabbed them and scooped them up and showed them my own fear—with some purposeful drama thrown in for good measure—"Oh my gosh, sweetie! Are you okay?! That was SO scary! I was afraid a car was going to SQUASH you! Let me look at you." Then I checked them over, head to toe, and expressed my relief that they were okay. That did the trick with all three of them.

People often mistake positive parenting for pushover parenting, but it's not. My kids have boundaries. They are taught to be respectful to everyone, me included, and to behave like civilized humans. But kids can be taught those things through non-violent means. I can't think of a single thing that spanking would address better than methods that don't involve slapping a part of someone's body—especially a part that would be considered sexually inappropriate in any other context.

As more and more research shows that spanking isn't just unnecessary but potentially harmful, parents may wish to reconsider spanking as a method of discipline, which is the message the study authors hope people take away from this research.

"It's important to consider that corporal punishment does not impact every child the same way, and children can be resilient if exposed to potential adversities," said lead study author Jorge Cuartas. "But the important message is that corporal punishment is a risk that can increase potential problems for children's development, and following a precautionary principle, parents and policymakers should work toward trying to reduce its prevalence."

This article originally appeared on 09.06.17

Being married is like being half of a two-headed monster. It's impossible to avoid regular disagreements when you're bound to another person for the rest of your life. Even the perfect marriage (if there was such a thing) would have its daily frustrations. Funnily enough, most fights aren't caused by big decisions but the simple, day-to-day questions, such as "What do you want for dinner?"; "Are we free Friday night?"; and "What movie do you want to see?"

Here are some hilarious tweets that just about every married couple will understand.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash

Mosquitoes are attracted to certain viral smells in both humans and mice.

As much as I love summer, there is one thing I could do without: bugs. More specifically, mosquitoes. Those pesky little buggers can wreak havoc on a beautiful summer day. Who hasn't spent time outside in summer and then come in all itchy and covered in bites? There are multiple reasons why some people are more susceptible to mosquito bites than others, but there's a new one that likely isn't on people's radars. Mosquitoes could be attracted to the odor certain viruses create in the body.

There is evidence that mosquitoes are attracted to the odor given off by mice infected by the parasite that causes malaria. Now, a team is looking at how the scent of mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and Zika would attract mosquitoes to people rather than mice.

Keep ReadingShow less

Paul Rudd in 2016.

Passing around your yearbook to have it signed by friends, teachers and classmates is a fun rite of passage for kids in junior high and high school. But, according to KDVR, for Brody Ridder, a bullied sixth grader at The Academy of Charter Schools in Westminster, Colorado, it was just another day of putting up with rejection.

Poor Brody was only able to get four signatures in his yearbook, two from what appeared to be teachers and one from himself that said, “Hope you make some more friends."

Brody’s mom, Cassandra Ridder has been devastated by the bullying her son has faced over the past two years. "There [are] kids that have pushed him and called him names," she told The Washington Post. It has to be terrible to have your child be bullied and there is nothing you can do.

She posted about the incident on Facebook.

“My poor son. Doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better. 2 teachers and a total of 2 students wrote in his yearbook,” she posted on Facebook. “Despite Brody asking all kinds of kids to sign it. So Brody took it upon himself to write to himself. My heart is shattered. Teach your kids kindness.”

Keep ReadingShow less